Hundreds gather for HISD professional services networking event

The district prepares to open the solicitation process for firms interested in architectural and engineering work on the 40 bond schools

November 29, 2012

More than 230 professional service providers turned out Wednesday at Carnegie Vanguard High School to attend a networking event for architecture and engineering companies interested in the Houston Independent School District's 2012 bond program.

The gathering took place as the district prepares to open the solicitation process for firms interested in performing the architectural design and engineering work on the 40 schools slated to be renovated, replaced or newly built under the $1.89 billion bond program.

"It's important to the district that we facilitate these type of events for prime vendors and subcontractors," said Alexis Licata, HISD's general manager of business assistance. "This is an opportunity for HISD to reinforce our commitment to the M/WBE community and provide a setting where small and large firms have access to network and potentially partner together on upcoming projects."

Sponsored by the district's Office of Business Assistance and Construction Services Divisions, the event's attendees included architects, engineers and surveyors looking for collaborations. The district hopes such partnerships will create innovative designs for the schools slated for construction or renovation.

Dan Bankhead, HISD's general manager of construction services, told the crowd the new buildings will be transformational for the city's students and neighborhoods. "I'm going to be challenging all of you to change what 21st-century learning looks like," he said.

HISD representatives also responded to questions about the bond, the RFQ process and opportunities for minority- and woman-owned business enterprises. The district hopes to exceed its M/WBE goals with the upcoming bond projects.

"Historically, [M/WBEs] are under-utilized businesses," Licata said. "The district has a 25-percent M/WBE goal for professional services projects and events like this help establish those connections and opens up opportunities for expanding business and ensuring we continue to exceed our goal."

Prime contractor M. Carolina Weitzman, principal of Natex Corporation Architects, said it makes a difference when M/WBEs are included on large projects. The woman-owned, Hispanic minority firm has worked with the district on several projects, including renovations at Scroggins Elementary School on Boyles Street.

"One of the things that I really love about HISD is that they do count minority firms for the prime [contracting positions]," Weitzman said. "There are so many organizations out there that do not and it's very hard to compete without that support."

Hers is a smaller firm, though one with almost 30 years of experience, Weitzman said. Attending network events is important because she can associate with larger organizations, such as Fanning Howey, a national architecture and engineering firm with 12 regional offices. The firm's principal, Ronald Fanning said event attendees can benefit from networking.

"It gives an opportunity for everybody to talk and learn about each other, and determine what their strengths are so you can match those up to better serve the Houston Independent School District," Fanning said. "Our goal is to put the best team together and this is where we can learn about people to make that happen."

Irving Moses, of DPRA Architects, said attending events like this help him appreciate the value of teamwork between firms: "I'm hoping to learn more about opportunities that the bond issue might present. It's always good to know potential partners where you might be able to collaborate."

Over the next month, HISD will host nine informational events around the district on how to do business with HISD. Construction is expected to begin on some projects in 2014.